8 AUGUST 2001


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Standardising industry

DAVID LINDSAY SPEAKS TO MALTA STANDARDISATION AUTHORITY CHAIRMAN ENGINEER FRANCIS FARRUGIA ABOUT THE MSA’S UPCOMING PLANS, CONFORMING WITH EU REGULATIONS, PROTECTING THE INTEGRITY OF INDIGENOUS MALTESE GOODS, AND ON THE IMPORTANT DISTINCTION BETWEEN A STANDARD AND A REGULATION


What is the history behind the Malta Standardisation Authority?
The Malta Standardisation Authority came into being back in 1996 when the Malta Standardisation Authority Act was passed in Parliament. Before that there was the Malta Board of Standards which had operated since the late 60’s.
In the past, the Board of Standards was responsible for the enforcement of regulations, but with the new Act our new role is more one of being an advisor to industry. There are other sections within the government that are responsible for carrying out enforcement.
The first problem we came across was in the definition of the word ‘standard’. Many people confuse the words ‘standard’ and ‘regulation’ and it took us some time to explain this difference.
In the past, when we used to talk about standards, it was always within the context of something mandatory. There was a standard and it had to be followed. However, the definition of standards has changed and today standards are considered as guidelines, a code of practice but which are there for use on a voluntary basis.
For example, we will soon be preparing standards for hygiene for various sectors such as shops and catering establishments. These are to be guidelines so that those in the industry have guidelines to follow but it does not mean that they have to follow them to the letter. As long as they meet these minimum standards, they can follow American standards, which might even be more rigid.
When standards are prepared by the MSA, all those involved in the relevant sector would form part of a technical committee. All standards passed in this respect have to be by consensus in that everyone has to agree to it, otherwise it would not be published as a standard.
On the other hand, a regulation is something that is instituted by the government, which may appoint a person or group to write a new legislation which would then be passed through Parliament. We would only be required to publish its title in the Government Gazette. But there could be instances in which a standard could also partly be a regulation. For example, if a particular act makes reference to a standard.
So standards, although being voluntary, can become part of legislation if they form part of a legal notice.
There are also other types of standards apart from these codes of practice. The MSA is responsible to implement at least a minimum of physical standards of measuring parameters. For example, today we have nothing to compare our weighing equipment with. Research recently carried out in the United States found that a kilogram, although they still use the pound, varied from 720 grams to over one kilogram in different shops. There has to be a national standard for measurements, which is known as metrology.
We have been allocated EUR0.5 million from EU funds to build a comprehensive measurement system for Malta.
We will also be subcontracting people to check, for example, when you purchase a litre of petrol if you are really getting an entire litre of petrol, in order to ensure that the consumer is getting what they are paying for. In some countries, they even carry our similar exercises on taxi meters.
Anything involving measurements and payments is within legal metrology. There was a law, going back to 1910, which was one of the first laws on legal metrology but it has never been enforced. Now, most likely during the third quarter of this year, there will be a new law called the Metrology Act before Parliament through which we will be publishing metrology standards for Malta.
We are also responsible for the publication of legal notices to various ministries and for adopting all the new approach standards within the EU context. These are very important, as there are safety implications - those on toys for children, recreational crafts, medical implants such as pacemakers and the Authority is responsible to implement them as part of our national legislation.
Within the MSA, we have two directorates - one responsible for consumer and industrial goods and the other on foodstuffs chemicals and cosmetics – which are regulated within the EU.
Finally, we have the accreditation directorate. This has not yet been finalised but is also planned for the third or fourth quarter of this year. There are a number of laboratories operating in Malta but, unfortunately, the certificates that they issue are not recognised as these laboratories are not accredited.
In order to operate a laboratory so that test reports issued by them have some recognition, they have to be accredited by another body that goes to ascertain whether all the necessary requirements for laboratories are met with. If the requirement are upheld, they will be issued an accreditation certificate, then test reports issued by that laboratory would be recognised even abroad.
The tests carried out would ensure that those working in the labs are competent, that the testing is done in a controlled environment, that all equipment is calibrated etc… For the time being, no one is checking on these requirements. However, we already have the accreditation personnel in place and in the first quarter of 2002, in six month’s time, we will be setting up the accreditation service in Malta.
The preparation of Maltese standards in line with European and international standards has been underway for some time now. In fact, a fact that many are not aware of is that we have adopted over 9,000 such standards as Maltese national standards - most of these are European standards and other international standards.
We recently made a breakthrough by preparing the first national standard for keyboards. The question was how the Maltese keyboard would be laid out, as the Maltese language has more letters than those contained on a standard keyboard. We had two options, either to adopt a single key in which some of the functions, such as the + or the =, would be given a Maltese character or whether to use two keys combined to produce a Maltese character, such as alt c would become a Maltese character.
We carried out an exercise during which we called in at least 40 people who regularly use Maltese characters and we presented them with the two options and the single key option was the most popular.
Accordingly, we will now be introducing the single option as the Maltese standard keyboard. However, when you publish a standard, you need to receive feedback from all those involved. We have commissioned MITTS to write the standard, we gave copies to all those involved and we now have three months in which to receive the feed back.
Once we receive the feedback and look into all the comments, we will establish it as a Maltese standard, which will be the first in the field.
What affiliations does the MSDA have with similar organisations abroad?
The Authority is a full member of the International Standards Organisation (ISO) and it is an affiliate of CEN the European body for standards, of which we have applied for full membership. It is not easy, as we had to go through a full three day assessment of the Authority, which was carried out last May.
We were successful and we will now be the second EU candidate country to obtain full membership status of CEN. There are other European bodies that have failed, even on the second attempt, but we managed on our first attempt to meet the requirements of CEN.
We have also been nominated, with the elections coming up in September in Sydney, for the ISO general secretariat, of which we were nominated by other European countries. The position would be a very prestigious one for Malta.
Does Malta still have a long way to go in meeting EU standards and regulations?
I had earlier mentioned the New Approach Directive. All items falling under the New Approach must have the EU mark, which says that the product is safe to be sold in a country. Now if a product produced in Malta has the EU mark, it cannot be refused sale in any EU country. So we are also working along those lines and I can say that most of the products in Malta that fall under one of these directives meet the requirements.
In fact, sometimes we would have issued certificates of free sales for products produced in Malta for third countries, such as those in southeast Asia and we quote that these products meet with EU standards.
We also provide all the advice that local companies exporting to the EU need in order for them to have their products easily sold on the European market.
How is the MSA governed?
The Authority is governed by a council, of which there are 14 members. Half of them are ex-ufficio, former directors of government departments, while we also have members from industry, such as representatives from the FOI, GRTU, the Chamber of Commerce, the Chamber of Engineers, the Chamber of Pharmacists – all those who are stakeholders in issues of standardisation and related issues.
We meet regularly, every four to six weeks, to discuss general policy and directorates that ensure that policies are being upheld.
The Authority does not fall under any government authority and the decisions taken by the council are final. In some cases, we could be given certain indications by a ministry, but it is the council that decides in the end.
Future plans?
The MSA is expanding, a year ago we were five staff and now we are 19, while there was only directorate last year and now there are five. As I said, the areas on which we will be concentrating are those of metrology and accreditation. We need accreditation because today those that want to test their products in order for them to be approved for sale in Europe, the products must sent to Europe - to an accredited laboratory. As such, we have to start providing accreditation services as soon as possible.
What special provisions are in the pipeline for Maltese goods?
One of the areas that we will be working on next year will be that of introducing standards on indigenous products such as honey, gbejna, Maltese sausage – everything that can be identified as a Maltese product.
We have also been approached by the Crafts Council to create some mark of conformity for Maltese products, such as lace. Malta imports a good deal of imitation, machined lace from Taiwan, for example, and say that it is Maltese. We are holding discussions with the Crafts Council to issue a conformity mark.
However, first we have to produce a standard on how Maltese lace should be made. Anyone who produces lace could ask us to inspect whether that company and its products are based on the standard. If we find that it complies with the standard, then it can carry the conformity mark that would identify it as a genuine Maltese-made product.
If there are 40 manufacturers and only some of them choose to go for the conformity mark, the others would be able to carry on doing as they have been- - but without the mark of conformity.
But if a conformity mark is granted, then from time to time we would still have to carry out checks to ensure that the standard has been maintained. Of course, there will be legal implications for those applying a conformity mark if it has not been granted by the MSA.
We have identified quite a number of areas, especially in terms of indigenous products in the area of foods, in which we could issue this conformity mark as being authentically Maltese.
A product, of course, could be produced in Malta, but not have the conformity mark if it is not manufactured in the appropriate way. There has to be a standard. For example, for gbejna maltija we must identify what type of milk was used in its production. All the tests that need to be done to ensure their integrity must be specified in the standards and if the standards were abided by, then they would be issued with the conformity label.
A committee will be formed made up of those concerned – such as manufacturers, resellers and consumers – where a consensus will be reached and whereby the mark will be issued.
We have also been allocated funds by the EU to start the project.



The Business Times, Network House, Vjal ir-Rihan San Gwann SGN 07
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